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Table of Contents
    Copyright
        Copyright
    Summary
        Page i
    Interview
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 2a
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
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COPYRIGHT NOTICE


This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Florida.

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.

This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
used.

For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida









UF 319
Melvyn New
Professor of English, University of Florida, 1966 to present
6 November 2002
Interviewer: Curtis Call

Pages 1-10
Dr. Melvyn New discussed his upbringing in New York City in the 1940s. He mentioned seeing
friends of his parents who returned from German concentration camps after World War II. New
discussed his aspirations and relationship with his parents, changing course from becoming a
lawyer to a writer and their negative reaction. He described campus life, memorable teachers,
and his activities in the 1950s while he attended Columbia University.
After college he went into the Navy as part of his contract in the ROTC [Reserve Officer
Training Corps] and described the context of his life at that time as a newlywed. New described
his decisions after he returned to school following military service, influenced by the "Fugitive
Poets" of Vanderbilt University. He described the turmoil of those times of civil rights and his
political positions.
He discussed his graduate works and what was to become his professional interest in Laurence
Sterne's Tristram .\liily. He considered reasons for not wanting to come to the University of
Florida but did so anyway because of Aubrey Williams, an Alexander Pope scholar. New
described the falling-out they had and reasons for it, and mentioned other tensions in the English
department.
Pages 11-20
He defined the present department as undivided, but at risk of losing independent thinking. He
was defined as a fascist, reactionary, and sexist because of his thinking. He thought the direction
of the university at odds with being a top university. New described stormy personal relations
between other faculty members involving himself and others that created factions. He lamented
the University of Florida's lack of quality programs.
New discussed his thoughts about thel960s on campus concerning issues of civil rights and the
Viet Nam war demonstrations. He defined himself as a rabble rouser.
He talked at length of his retirement options and decisions. He discussed his career as a primary
Laurence Sterne scholar and how his much disputed initial views have over time become
accepted as establishment views that now have to be disputed. He added that he was asked to do
the Sterne entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, a forty page essay. He talked of other
books he liked.
New compared students over time in his experience. Present students, in his opinion, while just
as bright, are less well-read which is problematic in teaching English. He gives insight on what
an undergraduate student should attempt to accomplish.
Pages 21-end (23)
He elaborated on the inability of the average person today to read properly. He talked briefly
about his family, his emphasis on getting his family to read, and concluded the interview by
adding that he buys his grandchildren books rather than video games.









Interviewee: Melvin New
Interviewer: Curtis Carll
Date of Interview: 11-6-02


C: The date is November 6, 2002. I am Curtis Carll and I am with Dr. Melvyn New, a
professor of English at the University of Florida since 1966. We are in his office in
Turlington Hall on the campus of the University of Florida. Dr. New is a specialist in
eighteenth-century British literature, particularly the writings of Laurence Sterne, as well
as twentieth-century British literature and is currently my thesis advisor. Is that
accurate?

N: That sounds accurate.

C: You were born in 1938. Could you tell me where that was and a little bit about your
parents?

N: I was born in New York City. Actually out on Long Island, but we moved to New York
City, Manhattan, when I was a couple months old. My father was a second generation
German Jew and was a butcher. He took over his father's butcher shop. My mother was
a second generation Russian Jew. Neither one had a high school education. Neither one
finished high school. They ran a butcher grocery shop.

C: Did you assist them in the butcher shop?

N: Oh, yes. My father's great dream was for me to take over the shop. I disappointed him
and he never got over it really.

C: You never had any intentions [to take over your father's business]?

N: Well, not after I was eight or nine. I had other ideas.

C: He wanted you to be a butcher. What qualities of your parents influenced you to study
British literature?

N: I really can't think of any. I am a product of [public high schools] and maybe this is [part
of the explanation]. They let me go. They let me be educated outside the home. I was a
product of a public school education and just what a public school education could do for
people in the nineteen forties.

C: You have good memories of your public school education.

N: Yes.

C: Could you compare what you thought of yours to what you saw as your children's [public
school education]?









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N: I think I had a much better education, but I am sure that they feel that they had a good
education too. I am not sure that it matters what education you have. What matters is the
attitude that you develop toward getting educated. I suppose if my parents did anything,
at least my mother, she was always letting me read. [She was always] interested in my
getting good grades. There was a lot of push in the family to do well academically, but I
know I had some good teachers also and people who from pretty early on took an interest
in educating us. The teachers, I mean.

C: Do you have any [teachers] in particular that you remember or kept in contact with?

N: None that I have kept in touch with. But I do remember the teacher who probably
changed everything for me was a man named Matthew Schwarz. I went to a junior high
school that was a special advanced class, so we did what was three years of junior high
school in two years and he was somebody who taught me history and English for most of
that time. He was a mean, curmudgeonly, terrible little man. But he shaped me and
really taught me a great deal.

C: Did you adopt some of his teaching style?

N: I probably have. I have tried, I suppose. I can remember, this is almost fifty-five years
ago, I once gave a paper on Red [communist] China. This is 1950 or so, so you know
that this is right in the middle of the Cold War. I said something about Red China being
"bad." He just went up one side of me and down the other and asked for my facts, my
data, where did I get this information from. [It was] the first time that I ever really had
the sense that you have to back up what you said. I can remember that. He was first rate,
a teacher of seventh and eighth graders.

C: Was it he who introduced you to Lawrence Sterne?

N: No, that came much much later. I was in college in a graduate school.

C: Your father was a German Jew. What was it like for him during your youth and during
and after World War II.

N: He was very Americanized and he was indifferent to it. I resented that. In fact, he was in
the butcher and grocery business like I told you and that meant he had quite wealthy
customers and was willing to give them black market [illegal] food. He made a lot of
money during the war doing that. His mother lost members of her family and many
friends [during World War II] and I remember right after the war friends who came to see
her who finally got to America, this is '47 or '48, and they had the tattoos [from the
German concentration camps] on their arms and that kind of this. But [my father] really
was an assimilated Jew. My mother's family was more religious and kept up the









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orthodox thing and kept kosher. But my motherjoined with him and became secular. I
didn't really have much religious background in that house. It is a fairly typical New
York story. It is sort of Woody Allen [movie director, actor] except he made a hell of a
lot more out of it.

C: Did you have a close relationship with your parents?

N: No. [It was] a very distant relationship because my father really did not do very well with
somebody that was getting an education. He felt uneducated himself but happy to be so.
My mother was simply torn. I got along a lot better with [her]. She is actually living in
Gainesville now. My father was a conflict most of my life.

C: When you decided to go to Columbia [University] in 1955, did you know then that you
wanted to study British literature?

N: No. I wanted to be a lawyer and I went as [a] pre-law [student]. I had a freshmen
instructor, a T.A. [teaching assistant], who mined my life by telling me I could write and
should be a writer or should do something like that. I threw over pre-law and tried to
write, actually, that was what I was trying to do, but failed writers become English
professors.

C: Do you have any copies of what you wrote [in college]?

N: No. I spent my college years and two years in the Navy trying to write the Great
American novel.

C: When you were at Columbia, that was during the McCarthy era [period of paranoia over
communism exemplified by the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin] and
[Dwight] Eisenhower [U.S. President, 1953-1961]. What was the campus like?

N: Peaceful, calm. We were pretty dead-head. Eisenhower was the president of Columbia
when I was there. That was before he became president, is that right? Eisenhower
became President in '58? No, that was after.

C: Eisenhower became President in 1953.

N: 1953 and served two terms until 1960. He had been president [of Columbia] just before I
got there. That was it. The Republican party did not know what to do with him. They
got him this job as president of Colombia to keep him on ice in New York out of trouble
until he was ready to run in '52. That's when he ran. Grayson Kirk was president when I
was there.
To tell you how that campus changed [from the fifties to the sixties], I was on the
track team the first couple of years that I was there. They practiced on campus during the









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winter months. They set up a wooden track in the middle of buildings and the great
walkway from Low Library to Butler Library. People would walk past and wave at us,
and that kind of thing. Then they would take the track up on Fridays and the ROTC
[Reserve Officer Training Corps] would drill out there. I was in ROTC. They would
laugh at us and wave at us too, the same as to the track [runners]. [It was] happy-go-
lucky. Within ten years, they booed and hissed and threw things and ROTC was forced
off of campus. They could not allow them to march because there was so much
harassment. Things did change enormously.

C: What do you remember of your undergraduate education?

N: That I wasted it. I had some really fine teachers who I found out afterwards were really
fine teachers. But I cut [class] a lot. I didn't read up to date. I had one teacher, and there
is the one who I modeled myself after, who gave quizzes, daily reading quizzes. He said,
I don't care if this is Ivy League or not. You people don't read unless I make you. He
was right. I took four courses with him, he was my favorite professor. He was the one
[with whom] I first read Sterne, Sentimental Journey. He was primarily a Renaissance
[Europe, 1450-1600] scholar. He taught [the literature of John] Milton, Renaissance
poetry. I took sort of a basic English major course with him and then an eighteenth-
century course. I took four different courses. I had the [famous] name professors who
were teaching there. People like Mark Van Doren, and I liked him. But I just wasn't as
dedicated a student. I was into writing. I was into playing at being sort of bohemian. I
spent time down in Greenwich Village and things like that.

C: What type of things were you writing?

N: I was trying to write a novel. I was trying to write fiction. I really didn't have a clue.

C: What had you written that your T.A. [teaching assistant] you mentioned saw talent in?

N: Just freshmen papers. Actually, they were analyses of literature, I think. At least some
of them were. I should have known that's where I should be headed and not in creative
writing.

C: What was the reaction of your mother and father when you switched from pre-law to
writing?

N: They no longer paid for college. They said that they weren't going to pay for someone to
be a teacher. I paid my way. I had some money. They actually came back and they paid
tuition after a while. I worked, I started working. I had a step-sister, my father's first
wife died in childbirth and so I had an older sister. She was the one who really pushed
me toward a college education, toward getting educated, [and being exposed to]
museums [and] art. All those things which I never did until she forced me into it. She









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was three years older. They would not send her to college of any sort. She went to
college, City College, Hunter, but still a city college. They didn't have to pay anything.
It was free. She became a teacher. She was a pretty strong influence on me during those
early years.

C: From Columbia you went into the military?

N: Yes.

C: Had you been in ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] your entire time at Columbia?

N: I was in the entire time, yes. I was what they called a contract student. You went four
years and the Navy paid you something for the last two years. Then you had to do two
years of service.

C: What were your memories of those two years [in the Navy]?

N: They were pretty good. I think as you get more and more distant from them you
romanticize them more and more they seem better and better. At the time I was married
already. That made it rather difficult and I spent probably, in those two years, fifteen [or]
sixteen months [away from home].

C: Where were you?

N: In the Mediterranean and in the Caribbean. Two tours in the Caribbean and one in the
Mediterranean.

C: When did you get married?

N: Right out of college. I got engaged during my sophomore year or at the end of my
sophomore year. I was working in an institution about twenty miles outside the city, a
place for kids with rheumatic fever and fondlings, sort of one was becoming the other.
They were changing. I met my wife there. She was working there for the summer. I had
a summer romance and got engaged. She went back to college. She was in Mississippi
but she was a senior and I was going into my junior year. My final year she came up to
New York and worked. She taught in New Jersey, taught high school. I finished my
senior year.

C: Is it she that you do some of your work with?

N: Yes. Same one.

C: From Columbia, after you finished with the military, you decided to attend Vanderbilt









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[University]. How did you come to that decision?

N: Stupidly. Several different things. When I was in college I was fascinated by the
Fugitive Poets. This is the school of poetry that originated at Vanderbilt [with] Alan
Tate, John Crow Ransom, Robert Penn Warren. They had all started at Vanderbilt and
no one at Vanderbilt told me that they had left. That was one reason why I chose
Vanderbilt. I was thinking I would study under them. That was my stupidity [as was] the
lack of research. But you didn't have computers in those days and I was on board ship
most of the time when I should have been applying. It was very difficult to take any
exams and all of that. I didn't want to lose time so I applied to only one school, and that
was Vanderbilt. I was staying in the South because my wife was a southerner. While she
enjoyed teaching in New Jersey, she felt she would be more comfortable teaching in the
South. I don't know. I had a thing about going to private school, which was silly. I
could have gone to [the University of] North Carolina or U.Va. [University of Virginia]
for example, but I didn't. So I was going to private school and I didn't go to Duke
[University] because my wife is from North Carolina and I decided that we should go a
little farther away. Vanderbilt was the school. That was how it happened. It was the
only school that I applied to.

C: What was your immediate reaction when you arrived?

N: It was quite something. The last of the Fugitives was there, Donald Davidson, a poet, a
very good poet. [He was] a very good teacher, actually, I took a class with him. When I
was talking to him, he asked me who I had studied under and said Lionel Trilling,
thinking to impress him. Lionel Trilling was the author of The Liberal Imagination
among other books, a fairly left-wing scholar. Davidson said, I don't think I can work
with you. That was basically the end of my career as a creative writer. I had no choice at
that point but to turn toward the scholarly part. Here I was in graduate school and the
man who I had thought might direct my writing wasn't interested.

C: Did he even bother to read what you had written?

N: No. He was a member of the White Citizens' Council [segregationist group opposed to
civil rights for blacks] at the time. This was a pretty bad time in Nashville, 1961 was
when I started.

C: Do you think that something like that would happen currently.

N: Actually it probably would, but it would be somewhat different. It would be somebody
going into a professor in an English Department and saying, I decided to become an
English teacher when I read, [Bill Bennett, author of Book of Virtues] who is that guy
that writes all the books on the moral way of doing things? The name is escaping me.
He was at Boston University for a long time. At any rate, there are so many different









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ways that you can put this. But to say that I was highly influenced by some very
conservative voice. William? I'll think about it sometime later. I think they would do
the same thing. [They would] say, well, I can't work with anybody who likes that kind of
writing or that kind thinking. It happens.
My dissertation director, who was a man I really loved, by the end of it, Jack
Aden. He also was a member of the White Citizens' Council. They were old-line
southerners who felt like their world was coming to an end. They felt that integration of
schools would lower educational standards. What would happen is, blacks would
influence whites in their behavior rather than vice versa. Putting it that way is to say that
basically what they feared has basically come true. The thing with Jack Aden was, he
knew where I stood. I marched in demonstrations in Nashville. I signed petitions. One
day I was signing a petition [and Aden saw me]. It was the dining room, the dining room
had a picture window looking out over a plaza. I am signing a petition on the plaza and I
look up and he catches my eye. He is in there at the table. He just crosses his fingers,
shame, shame on you. He laughed. I don't know. He was a very fine scholar, a
University of North Carolina graduate, a southerner. I was probably the first New York
Jew that he had ever had as a student. I was the best student he'd ever had and I could
just tell that. On the one hand he didn't like my politics but on the other he knew that I
was in a sense the person who was going to pass on his own legacy. That turned out to
be the case. I don't think he ever had another student who has been as productive or been
a member of the profession in the same way.

C: You adapted pretty well to the culture shock of going from the north to the south?

N: I had married a southerner and that helped. I have always liked being in the South. I like
being a New Yorker in the South. The students in the beginning would certainly always
comment on my accent, less so now. But my kids commented on my accent.

C: Did you find the environments in Columbia to be much different than Vanderbilt?
Politically and academically?

N: The politics [were], certainly. But interestingly enough, there was quite a bit of
similarity because Columbia was so apolitical when I was there. Vanderbilt was actually
more politicized because the civil rights movement had begun. I graduated in 1966, so
the Vietnam thing [protests] was just beginning. But really the Vietnam demonstrations
were on this campus. Vanderbilt was in the middle of sit-ins, demonstrations, marches
on the capital. It was a pretty exciting place. I didn't really get all that involved. I was
sometimes doing things but it was against my wife's sensibilities so that was a problem.
I was pretty busy. We had one child while I was in the Navy and then I did my M.A.
[masters degree] in 1961 and '62 and my wife got pregnant and she had been teaching
school. In Tennessee in those years, you weren't allowed to go in front of the class if you
were pregnant so she had to teach teaching, so I got a job for a year at the University of
Tennessee in Martin, Tennessee. Then I came back in 1963. We had two children. My









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main purpose in graduate school was to get out of graduate school and get a job and start
working.

C: You were teaching when you were getting your degree?

N: Yes.

C: What did you think of teaching initially?

N: I loved it. I always liked to teach. I prided myself with my teaching. Vanderbilt had a
prize for the best freshmen paper, and all the faculty taught freshmen as well as the T.A.s.
My students won two years in a row because I pushed and shoved them and made them
win. I liked to be competitive. I always liked the classroom. It was different in those
days. I joke about [it but] at Vanderbilt I would make the students wear socks as well as
shoes and at Florida I was lucky if they showed up with shoes. There are changes.

C: What did you end up writing your thesis on?

N: My doctorate? I wrote an M.A. thesis, on [Percy Bysshe] Shelley. Then I saw the light. I
wrote on Shelley because I had a paper and I could do it quickly and I wrote it very
quickly. I wrote on Tristram Shandy which I had read with Jack Aden and that's where it
started.

C: Do you want to talk a little bit about that, the first time you read [Tristram Shandv]?

N: I did the worst of all things the first time. I read all the criticism before I read the book.
It was because I was working on the theory, which I had picked up from Northrop Frye
and others, that it belonged to a tradition of manipian satire. I really began, I was going
to be a [Jonathan] Swift scholar, Swift and [Alexander] Pope. I was working on the
theory that Swift and Pope had influenced [Laurence] Sterne. I was reading about Sterne
because I was going to do a paper. My first paper was on the criticism of Sterne and the
way in which they read him as a novelist rather than as a satirist and how that changed
things. I didn't realize that it would get to be a total obsession.

C: When was the first time you read through the book entirely?

N: When I was finishing that paper. Here it is, I am reading all this criticism on the book,
reading about the book, before I read the book. That's something you should never do.

C: Was it immediately upon reading it that you [became attached to it]?

N: No. I was really locked into ideas of satire. My main interest was satire, not Sterne and
not Tristram Shandy. I was interested in the genre of satire. Even when I came here, in









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those days we had, and we still do, the eighteenth-century novel as separated from [John]
Dryden and Pope and the Age of [Samuel] Johnson. When I came here, they already had
a novel person, and I was hired as the junior person doing Dryden and Pope and Swift.
That's really what I had trained for. They fired [the person], or the person retired right
after I got here, or resigned, and I sort of started teaching the novel and became identified
with the novel tradition. I had done very little work, actually, in the novel. I had done all
my work Restoration and eighteenth-century drama, satire, and then Dryden and Pope
and I did take a course in Johnson and [James] Boswell.

C: What made you decide to come to the University of Florida?

N: The best eighteenth-century scholar, one of the best in the country, and perhaps the best
[Alexander] Pope scholar in the country was here. Aubrey Williams, he was graduate
research professor, he was the only really first rate scholar in the department. He had
come from Yale for various reasons. He was a native of Florida, born in Jacksonville and
for several reasons decided to come down here or maybe they sent him down here. He
was a big name and had written the most important book on Pope in years, on the
Dunciad. I actually was interviewed down here. In those days you got a lot of interviews
and I had about eighteen interviews and this one was my last interview. I had a couple of
drinks before I went actually, so I was loose. Part of the reason for being loose was that I
didn't want to come here because my parents had just moved to Florida. I didn't want to
get that close. But Aubrey Williams interviewed me and he called me up. Jack Aden
said, there's no way you can take any other job in the country in Aubrey Williams wants
you. So I came. Within six years we had a falling out and we never talked civilly to one
another again.

C: Let's talk about that.

N: I wrote an article called "The Grease of God." I just very gingerly, in the nicest, sweetest
way possible suggested that he might be not quite right in what he had published. And he
told me, he read it, I showed it to him in draft, and he said, well, you can try to publish
this and make a fool of yourself. So I published it in PLMA, which is the leading journal
for our profession. It was the hardest journal to get into, the top of the line. It was the
journal everyone was supposed to read in those days. He really stopped talking to me.
He was very hostile. There were other issues, I'm sure. I was getting students, graduate
students, working with me and I think he resented that. I am sure that he has a different
side to the story. He probably thinks that I was a nasty young man who was arrogant or
whatever. But it was fun while it lasted. He taught me a great deal, he really did. He
taught me how to be a professional. One of the problems with the University of Florida
is how few people are actually connected professionally to the profession. That is, they
belong to the university, they are university teachers, but they don't have connections to
the rest of the professions. He taught me that's what matters, how you function
professionally out in the world among published scholars.









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C: What was your initial impression of the faculty besides Dr. Williams?

N: It was pretty weak. A bunch of old men, about my age [now]. I thought they were the
oldest people I had even seen and I am sure that is what the faculty think now about me.
It really was an old, retiring faculty. They hadn't accomplished much. There were few
named scholars, there were a couple of good people, Anne Zolas was one. Harry
Wuerffel was good. There were some good young people. But it was a very divided
faculty even then. People hated one another in this department. It took me a little while
to get adjusted. I dedicated my first book, or acknowledged in my book, two people,
John Aljoe, who is very good friend, and Ben Pickard, who is also a good friend at the
time. In the first four years that I was here, they hated one another. They were just at
each other's throats. Aljoe, who turned out to be the much better scholar, and was a
Florida Ph.D, left. He had a wonderful career at the University of Georgia and is well
known as one of the leading linguists in the country. Pickard kind of dwindled on the
vine and still lives in Gainesville. It was a pretty hostile environment.
The first time I came to Gainesville was to look for a house. I came with my
wife, the two kids. I had to come down and find a house in three days or something like
that and go back and finish my dissertation. This was in the beginning of the summer.
Some of the young people here had me over for drinks and made me totally [drunk], I
mean, [they] wiped me out. I never knew people could drink that much and I was in the
Navy. Then they sent me back down 13th Street to a motel, that was where we were
staying. I was so sick the next morning, when I was supposed to be looking at a house I
could hardly keep my head on. I found out later that they kind of did that on purpose
because Aubry Williams was hiring me to replace this person I said was the novel person
because he didn't like him either. He had had a fight with him. I didn't know any of this.
But this guy was a big buddy with all the rest of them so they all really resented my
coming here and realized that I was coming as a replacement, which I didn't know until I
had been here a year or two.

C: Is the faculty still that kind tight-knit [group]?

N: Well, I think that there are factions in the faculty. This faculty is not even divided
anymore. I think that this is a very unified faculty. The young faculty [are] very unified
around this post-modern way of thinking. My main complaint about the faculty is that
there isn't enough independent thinking. They all band together and they all see the
world exactly the same way. I find them pretty dull witted. Just dull. What has
happened is appalling in terms of the study of literature. At least in those days we had
fights about things. Now no one fight except me and that just marks me as the nasty old
man in the department. Even the old folks are just counting the days until "drop." They
want to get out and they have no interest in taking on any of this because you are labeled
such nasty things. You are labeled a fascist, a reactionary, a racist, sexist, whatever.









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C: When did that begin taking place?

N: I would say in the last ten years. I think, about ten years.

C: You came in 1966, and then you became chairman in 1979. What did you think of those
first thirteen years?

N: The first four or five years I was busy trying to get my book out, get tenure, and
promoted. I though it was a pretty horrible place. I also was trying to leave. They
started to hire some young people and that was good. We had some friends and we got
things going, but the University of Florida did not have much of a reputation and I felt
like I had been conned into coming here. I was ready to leave, especially after I had my
book out. But once I had the fight with Aubry Williams I really wasn't going to be able
to leave because the first thing anybody looking for an eighteenth-century person would
do is call up Aubry Williams and say, "How's Mel New?" He wasn't going to be very
nice.
In the early seventies, I started working with the faculty union, which was just
getting started. I worked my way into the union, et cetera. I eventually became president
of the union and was president when it was certified in 1976. That is when it won the
election to become the bargaining agent. I had been pretty active in grievance
procedures, giving the administration a hard time. Those were pretty good years. I was
still publishing a lot. I started the Sterne edition, got that underway. It was okay, but I
was having a lot of arguments. I am an argumentative person, obviously.
Then we had a new chair. They merged the colleges, University College and the
College of Arts and Sciences, so there were two English departments and the two came
together. There was one English department which were faculty who had basically
gotten their degrees here and taught freshmen for most of their careers so the department
was weakened even more than it had been. We got a new chair named Ward Hellstrom
and he been here for quite a few years. It was at his house, by the way, that I got drunk,
that they made me drunk, I'll say. Hellstrom and I never got along. He was six foot five
or something so that immediately put the kibosh on that relationship. When he became
chair, I suppose I got really active in trying to change the direction of the department.
We got a new dean in 1978 and the new dean also saw that something was really wrong
with the department. He more or less pushed Hellstrom to resign and Hellstrom had a
real backing in the department. The department was split. I had some of the young
people behind me and he had almost everybody else. Sidmund managed to get me made
interim chairman for a year to see whether I would explode or not. Then he gave me a
term and then another term, so two terms.
I was really upset with Hellstrom. I mean, I make jokes, but it was an intellectual,
I like to think it was an intellectual, argument we were having about the direction of the
department. His main thing was to hire what I would call peripheral subjects: people in
film studies, people in composition theory, children's literature. He said, the University
of Florida has no way in which we are going to be one of the top programs, so we could









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have a niche and supply the community colleges with teachers, if we do all these
specialized things. My argument was that we were the major university in the state and
that if we could not somehow run a legitimate Ph.D program, then we ought to figure out
how to do it. We had to keep trying. He may have been right, looking back over it
because we weren't able to break through. I had nine years to do it. I thought that we
were going to do it. We hired fifteen people, most of them at the senior level to try to
change the shape of the department. Most of the people we've had here, people I've
hired, or were hired by the people I hired, rebuilt the creative writing program, brought in
senior faculty like Norm Holland, who is still here, John Sealy is still here. But it really
did not work because the senior faculty were so abused by the other people around here,
it seemed to me, that they said, forget it, I don't need this grief and they either quit or
they are still here but they won't have anything to do with the department. They teach
and then they go home. A lot of the better people I hired have also left, again. A few of
them are still here. [David] Leverenz is here, Anne [Goodwyn] Jones, [R. Allen] Shoaf,
and then the creative writers, [William] Logan and Patrick Powell and Deborah Gregor.
They are all still here. I don't know. It was an attempt that did not quite make it. It is
because you have to sustain it. It is not something you can't do in nine years. You have
sustain it over a twenty year period and the university changes direction too many times
and starts in another direction.

C: Who replaced you [as chairman]?

N: Pat Craddock, who is an eighteenth-century scholar and sort of hand picked by me. I
wanted to go outside, I wanted to get somebody who would continue getting new people
in. Aubry Williams had retired a few years earlier and we had an opening for the
eighteenth- century [scholar]. I hired Pat Craddock. I am not sure that was a very good
move, but I did it anyway. She wasn't quite as organized as I think she needed to be and
I don't think she ever quite got the feel of how difficult a job it is to make a university
that's a mediocre university into something better. I don't mean to be insulting.
Mediocre simply means that we are not in the top twenty. We are in the top one hundred,
but that's not really good enough for graduate students because you can't get them jobs.

C: Do you think that the opportunity has passed?

[End of Side A: 1]

N: Yes. I think we missed the chance and right now we are moving down rather than up.
The hiring we are doing is so esoteric, but the schools that might be interested in our
students are interested in traditional subject matter. We continue not to place our
students. We are going to be larger and larger, which means we'll place somebody. It's
not a quality program and the state won't put up the money or the resources over a long
period of time. The English department can't do it by itself. The whole university has
got to grow. The professional schools around here may grow but not the core of the









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university, which is the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I think, despite yesterday's
election, where they may bring back a board of regents that the power has been shifted to
individual universities and that bodes very ill for the University of Florida because we
have no clout in this state. I am afraid that I am going to die under a Republican
governor. This university needs funding in a state that will never have an income tax,
that will never have a solid economic base. It is an impossible situation.

C: Let's talk about the [university] presidents. When you came [here] you were under
President [Stephen] O'Connell [1963-1973], how was it working with him as you worked
with the union you started?

N: I'm not sure when O'Connell left. I know that he was very hostile to the union, but I
think he left before we really got the union underway. He was pretty bad in terms of
Vietnam demonstrations and civil rights demonstrations on campus. I was really mixed
at that time. I was probably the only person on campus who was very much for civil
rights and very much against the Vietnam demonstrations. In other words, I wanted us to
escalate and bomb them back to the Stone Age. I suppose this was because I came out of
the military and I felt like we weren't really fighting a war there and that it was being
totally politicized. On the one hand, I didn't like the way he was trying to repress free
speech on campus and on the other hand I was sympathetic with some of the people who
he was putting down. I was sympathizing with his putting certain loudmouths on campus
who were manipulating students. I think it was [Marshall] Criser [University of Florida
president, 1984-1989] who was primarily involved in the union.

C: O'Connell left in '73, [Robert Q.] Marston started inl974.

N: Marston was good. We worked with Marston, and Bob Bryan was provost. I think we
were able to work with them. Marston was president when the union started and he was
probably the best of the presidents that we've had. Criser, then, came after him. I didn't
have much to do with him, I suppose. I don't really have much to do with presidents.
Because I was in the union, I was a little involved, but mainly we dealt with the provost
and the associate provost, Bryan and Hemp at the time. Presidents are basically fund
raisers and they were even in those days. But I liked Marston. Marston set some good
policy as opposed to some later presidents.

C: Do you want to talk a little bit about those Vietnam demonstrations, the climate on the
campus and your relationship [to it] as kind of a young professor.

N: It was difficult, especially within the English department, although in those days we had
a lot more discipline over our classrooms. I mean, you could really tell students to keep
quiet. But what it was doing was, affecting the way we taught literature and the
insistence upon relevance and meaningfulness. Are you irrelevant because you are
teaching Rape of the Lock [poem by Alexander Pope] when students are out there









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protesting [the] dropping [of] napalm on Vietnamese children? You really had to
reexamine what you were doing. I reexamined it from a fairly conservative point of view
in part because the eighteenth century is a conservative era, in part because I had been in
the military. It probably also had something to do with the fact [although] you think of
Vietnam, anyone who is Jewish thinks of the 1957 war, the '68 war, the '73 war, the
series of wars in Israel where one felt as an American that what you wanted most was a
strong military so that you could go to the defense of Israel if necessary. I was always
pretty hawkish, I suppose. I don't know if I should tell you to turn off the tape at this
point, but I voted for [Richard] Nixon [U.S. President, 1969-1974], I voted for [Ronald]
Reagan [U.S. President, 1981-1989]. [I voted for] Nixon at least once and Reagan
probably both times because I wanted a Republican in office because I didn't trust the
Democrats to do what might need to be done in the Middle East. In some ways, I still
don't. I am not sure that I trust [George W.] Bush [U.S. President [2001-present] either,
but I don't trust Democrats sometimes to do some of the hard things that need to be done.
[Jimmy] Carter [U.S. President, 1977-1981] is a good example. A lovely man, but
frightening in terms of Mideast policy. [Bill] Clinton [U.S. President, 1993-2001] was
much better, but he couldn't bring it off.
At any rate, the campus would have these periodic explosions and they would call
in the police. Some of my good friends in the union, Ken Magill in particular, was a
leader of the demonstrations. I never really held it against him. It was sort of like [how]
Jack Aden looked at me, I looked at Magill and said, well, that's your thing. I really did
feel that the students were being exploited, that students did not know what was
happening in Vietnam and I will go all the way back to my seventh grade teacher who
told me that I didn't know anything about China. These people didn't know anything. It
is the same today. They will protest the war in Afghanistan or Iraq and they don't know
anything about history. It makes them very easy to manipulate. I was writing in those
days and one of my subjects, and I actually taught a course in propaganda, I was
interested in proselytizing. You have taken enough courses with me to know that that has
always been a subject with me, of how people convince other people of the truth of their
own ideas. I think it all started because... I would be accused of all sorts of things
because I wasn't in support of getting out of Vietnam. Even then on campus, and
certainly within an English department, there was a certain level of political correctness.
One of the things involved was, what do you think about Vietnam. One of the other
faculty members, Ron Carpenter, do you know him, he was in the military. We were
sitting here one day and counting and there is a faculty of sixty and let's say ten of them
are women, but of the others, only maybe four or five of us ever saw military duty, the
rest of us never did. I think that tells you something about the attitude toward the
military and toward foreign policy. Nowadays, of course, it's become totally knee jerk
reaction.

C: Was there a distance between you and your students at that time?

N: Yes, I think, between me and some of my students and there still is, one hopes. Students









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who like the eighteenth century, which is what I was teaching almost solely in those
days, tend to be a little more conservative. That was fine. I was still getting graduate
students to work with me and enough undergraduates that I didn't mind. But there was a
sense at least that some students would not take my class because their professors had
told them, well, he's too conservative or whatever, [but] not much of that, I think. It was
simply the pressure one felt not from students but from colleagues about one's own
politics, particularly people who I felt did not understand my politics. [There were]
graduate students who had ideas about my politics based on what other faculty had told
them rather than reading anything I wrote. I really am not conservative. I am probably
one of the more radical members of the faculty. I really believe that. I believe in
political action and taking action and saying what you think. Most of these people don't
do that. I did. There is my union plaque over there. I was a rabble rouser. I remember
once going into Library East [at the University of Florida] some faculty member stopped
me, an old codger like myself now. He said, you fuckin' commie. He was talking about
the union. That is what he felt about unions. I really do think I have managed to alienate
both sides.

C: Is there still a political element to the relationships in the department?

N: More so than ever. More so than ever.

C: Even with the kind of unified [faculty mentioned earlier]?

N: Precisely. They are all unified, but it's increasingly difficult to be on the opposite side.
In the past, where you might have had factions, so you had ten people here, ten people
there, and ten in another spot, or maybe thirty/thirty. Now you have sixty against two.
The two or three of us who think in our way pretty much... we don't go to faculty
meetings. We don't participate. We aren't asked to be on any committees. Generally,
there is the sense, among the majority, that they know us. They know who we are. They
tell who we are to the younger faculty who come here. We have had faculty now in the
last five years come and go and I have never met them. One guy was here for four years,
I never met him, and he's left. He's gone elsewhere. There are faculty who I have never
met. That's partly my fault. I go talk to somebody who has been hired in Third World
literature and I go talk to her because she has Jewish last name, so I figure, well, we have
something in common. It turns out that we have nothing in common. I can't get a
conversation started. I am not a introvert, you can tell. It's because she is already so
filled with notions, oh, Mel New, he's the one who has all those bad views. Don't bother
talking to him, he's not worth talking to. Generally, I may be a bit paranoid, but usually
if you are paranoid they are out to get you.

C: Do you think that is a problem? Does it make you uncomfortable or other teachers
reticent to [interact with each other]?









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N: Yes, I think so. I think that it is a problem. I think that if I were twenty years younger, it
would be an enormous problem. I would really have to think about changing professions,
going elsewhere. That's not easy [because] there aren't that many jobs, good jobs.
Because I am so close to retirement, it doesn't bother me that much. It always bothers
you when you don't get along with people. It bothers me. But I don't think I would have
it any other way. I don't think that I would go along with these people [in order] to get
along with them. They are doing tremendous damage to the profession, tremendous
damage to my discipline. I lead my life primarily through the profession, through contact
with other people in other universities. It is not that I feel isolated, I feel pretty connected
to them. But around here I don't have anything to do. I talk to four or five faculty.

C: When do you plan on retiring?

N: I'm not sure. I'm not taking "drop." I asked that if I took "drop" if I could keep my
office because I am continuing research and I still have book contracts. That was turned
down. They said that I could have emeritus status and use the library. Thanks. I
probably am not going to take "drop" which is a loss of money. But Sam Proctor [U.S.
history professor, 1946-1993] is a good example. He stayed on. I would much rather
come to my fifth year, five years from now, which is when I would have to if I entered
"drop." It would be five years and I would be 69 [years old]. I would much rather come
to that and say, you know, I can go on. Then come to it and say, I have to quit. I have no
choice, no alternative. I'll kick myself in the seat of my pants if at that time I say, yeah, I
am going to quit now and I lost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which is
approximately what it is worth. Somebody told me, how can you do that? You are going
to lose so much money? I said, if I wanted to make money, I wouldn't have become an
English professor. I would have found some other work to do. We have enough. My
wife more or less agreed that we don't need more. I am just going to stay on. Norm
Holland is about 76, 77 [years old] now and Sealy is over 70 and they are still teaching.
They have reduced course loads. I am thinking I might find ways to reduce my own load.
Next year I start Social Security, which means I can get paid that, which means I could
probably drop every once in a while. In fact I could go half time, keep my office, et
cetera, and make about as much money as I would make if I retired. I am not quite sure
why people are retiring except they play golf and tennis and do whatever, travel. We
travel a little bit, but summers are fine for that.

C: You have managed to stay productive in writing since you published your first work in
1969.

N: Yes, I have kept it up. I have got some things to still finish. There are two more volumes
in the Sterne edition to go. I am working on volume 7 now. I am finishing two projects
with one of my former graduate students who is teaching now in Virginia. We just
signed a contract to do Sir Charles Grandison. Cambridge [University Press] is going to
do a big edition of it and they have given us a contract for that. That is a five year









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project.

C: Do you want to talk a little bit about your studies of Laurence Steme, since you are the
primary scholar in that field?

N: It is hard. I just read new page proofs of the Penguin Edition [of Sterne's Tristram
Shandy]. They are doing a new formatted edition of it with larger print. It just looks
pretty. I noticed in there a sentence I had which was quoting Steme quoting Bishop Hall,
It's not a nice thing for a man to praise himself. You have to be very careful talking
about your career. It's just been a long career and I have published a lot. What that
almost always means is that somebody has liked your work and has accepted it. You
begin to change the way in which the book that you wrote about is being read. What I
can say is, when I first wrote on Sterne, even before I published something, I remember
going to a conference and somebody saying, I have heard that there is even going to be
an absurdity of somebody attacking Uncle Toby coming out. I don't know how he got
word of this or whatever. Generally speaking the first book was reviewed by more
reviewers than I have ever seen a Sterne work reviewed by before or since. A lot of
them young people just out of graduate school, but some old-timers too. Uniformly, they
said, this could not be. I had overstated the case. I was making a case for Sterne as an
Augustine satirist and he wasn't. This that and the other. I missed the boat, I had done
this and done that. Recently I have just come across two books, two of the most recent
books, both published in 2002. One is a case book. I think in that I am called the
"undisputed leader of Steme studies." In the other book, both of these published in
England, in the other one, it makes the case or point that the English have done very little
in Sterne studies. It has been primarily an American thing and they went back to the
1920s: Wilbur Cross; Curtis, who did the letters, a major edition in 1930s; and then
Arthur Cash, who did the biography in the '70s; and me. That we have dominated Sterne
studies ever since. I think most people would now agree that the new writing that comes
out on Sterne tries to take into account the way I read him, even if they are now saying,
for the last thirty years, this the way Sterne has been read, as a satirist. We need to
rethink this. Because that is how scholarship works. It hasn't been thirty years. It has
been about fifteen years, I think, that I get more and more accustomed to seeing my
views as the views which are the establishment views that now have to be overturned. It
is kind of strange. A new biography of Sterne complains that there is a Sterne mafia in
the United States that is run by Arthur Cash and Melvyn New. I never knew that. It is
the way scholarship works. I do get to read, before it is published, a lot of Sterne essays.
That means I can say, I don't think this is good" or "You ought to do this" or "You
ought to mention me in it." Things like that. Then for the last fifteen years or so I have
been reviewing for The Scriblerian everything written on Steme and [Tobias George]
Smollett and publishing reviews. Things I don't like I am pretty acerbic about and can
really tell people, you either take into account my vision or you are going to get attacked.
Well, that's...a lot of people don't [read] the way I read and that's fine. Sometimes I
actually praise readings that are against my own. I try to be fair. I take my scholarship









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seriously. I am joking about it here, but I have tried very hard to be fair and very hard,
particularly because of the experience that I had with all Aubry Williams that I talked
about, to bend over backwards to help young scholars in Sterne or in general. Primarily,
Sterne people who write to me, e-mail me, I always try to be helpful, to get them into
print if I can, to find a place for them. I bet most people would tell you that.

C: At what point did you realize that you were becoming the leading Sterne scholar?

N: In some ways, you never believe it until you are just about dead, I suppose because there
are always people in front of you. I suppose I was good friends with Arthur Cash, who is
the biographer of Sterne and he complimented me very highly in his biography,
particularly the second volume. The first came out in 1976, I think, the second in '84. In
between them my edition had come out and I had really helped him. I kind of felt that
the two of us were now the leading Sterne scholars and he is eighty now. So that leaves
me. Probably the best indication that I have had, and the thing that pleased me the most,
was, do you know what the DNB is, it is the Dictionary of National Biography. It is
eighty, ninety volumes, I don't know what, of biographies of Englishmen, British. It was
written in the 1890s. It is a monumental work. It contains biographies of every great
English figure, political, social, whatever. They are doing a new one. It's going to be
published in 2003 or 2004, I think 2003. They asked me to do the Sterne entry. Leslie
Steven, a great scholar of the nineteenth century, did an earlier one. They usually,
particularly for an English author, want to have an Englishman do it. I felt like that was a
real acknowledgment that I was the person in the world who should do the Sterne entry.
They have what they call short entries and long entries and Sterne is one of the long
entries. It is a forty page essay on Sterne. That, to me, indicated that they at least who
they needed to go to.

C: How often do you read Tristram Shandy?

N: Not as much as I used it. It is a little hard for me to sit down and read it anymore because
I really know it well enough that I don't have to do through it, particularly since the
Penguin [edition] came out. Right now, they sent me the page proofs for this new
edition, but all I am doing is sort of making sure that they have done everything and
particularly lining up those bilingual pages and things like that.

C: How many times do you think that you have read it?

N: It's impossible to tell. Part of editing something is that you have to collate it against
numerous editions. I have read some things...for example, the first two volumes there
were seven editions that I had to collate it against multiple times. I have read the first
two volumes probably more than the others. That question...there is no way to know
anymore.









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C: Is that the book, is that your personally favorite book?

N: I am sure it is. You can't stay with a book that long. I always say, I would have killed
myself long before now if I had decided to edit Richardson. And now I am ending up
editing Richardson. I have other favorites. [Marcel] Proust, Thomas Mann, Swift's Tale
of the Tub. There are all kinds of books that I like. I did Tristram Shandy for twenty
years and thought that I don't do Sentimental Journey because I don't like it or I don't
understand it. Then I was reading Proust and Sentimental Journey and sort of the whole
thing came together for me. Now I have edited Sentimental Journey and think much
more highly of it than I had ever done before. I always used to think, well, Tristram is
way up here and you can't put do you have a video. Tristram is way up and Sentimental
Journey is sort of a minor work down below. But Sentimental Journey is a brilliant,
brilliant work. I have really liked it. But I am teaching Oscar Wilde now. I hadn't read
Oscar Wilde in forty years. He is so good, I can't believe how good Oscar Wilde is. I
enjoy most...when people tell you that a book is good, people you respect, people who
have been around like Samuel Johnson, it usually is. There is a reason why they like the
book. I have found that to be true of a great deal of literature, but you have to listen to
the right voices. Some people tell you books are good, but you should not trust those
people. When James Joyce tells you that Tristram Shandy is good, and Thomas Mann
tells you that Tristram Shandy is good, and [Johann Wolfgang von] Goethe tells you it's
good, and [Friedrich] Nietzsche tells you its good, then it probably is good. If you don't
understand why it's good, then it is your problem and you really need to go find out.

C: What do you think the difference is between students you taught when you first came and
the progression until now?

N: They are much less well read. I think it is a serious failure because they are just as
bright. They are just as intelligent but they have filled their mind with whatever happens
in grade school. I can't imagine the things that they read to fill in for the things they
should be reading. It begins, when I first came here this was the Bible Belt. That meant
that the students knew the Bible. Now the only students who, to my mind, seem to know
the Bible are evangelical students who you wish they would not know the Bible because
they don't and some black students who have been raised in the church. It is becoming
harder and harder to find students who know anything about the Bible. Since all of
Western literature basically uses that as its text of origination, we are in deep trouble.
Then they just haven't read...I asked my class [in which I am] teaching Oscar Wilde.
There is an American woman in one of the plays named Hester who is accused of being a
Puritan on several occasions. I asked on the quiz, where is she from and why is she
named Hester? About half of the class, put Hester Prynne, Scarlet Letter [by Nathaniel
Hawthorne], and the other half had no clue. One said, because she pesters everybody.
This is not intelligence. This is culture. This is what have they been taught, how have
they been to read literature, to look for allusion, to look for connections between one
work and another. That is what is missing.









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C: How much can you do as an English professor in college to help foster that?

N: Not much any more and less and less. We have done away, basically, with freshmen
English. We have done away with sophomore survey courses. Now a student takes an
upper division course and they haven't read anything. You know that I make students
read, probably more than most classes. But what is that, maximum nine novels, maybe
ten novels a course? Poetry much less. You really can't make up the deficit once a
student is in college. A student might be able to, but not with your course. I have
students who take independent studies simply on the basis of my saying to them during
classes, you should have read this, and you should have read that. They will come to me
and say, I want to do an independent study course on all the books you say I should have
read. [I say,] we can't do that, but I'll give you a list and we can do those books. A great
part of the difficulty is that we offer too many courses that offer books that students
might want to read as civilians or as professionals after an undergraduate career. But as
undergraduates, which I think of as a job, their job is to create a foundation for
themselves. Most of the courses we offer are not foundational courses, they are
peripheral courses, superstructure courses. A course in African literature has nothing to
do with an English major and it doesn't help that major. It certainly doesn't help if they
ever do to graduate school. Even if they go on to graduate school in African literature,
the fact is that the best African writers have all read [William] Shakespeare. And they
haven't, so they are behind immediately the people they are supposed to be analyzing and
thinking about because they haven't read the canon that all of these people have read.
You didn't get educated in Nigeria without reading Shakespeare and the whole English
canon, South Africa, all of those countries. The French-speaking countries read French
literature.

C: Do you think that it is fair to say that the non-English majors when you first came here
were better read than the current English majors?
N: I think so. But I think so across the...the majority. There are always good students who
have read. Those students were there at the beginning and are still there. I am talking
about the average student who went through high school taking American literature as a
junior, English literature as a senior and read canonical stuff. So that when you said in
class, John Donne, they knew who John Donne was. That is no longer the case. In that
sense, they are less well read. They will tell you, they know who [Chinua] Achebe
[African novelist, author of Things Fall Apart] is. My answer to that is, that's great, but
Achebe knew who Donne was. That's the way I think about it. Unless they know
something about the classics, unless they know something about the Renaissance, there is
no way you could teach modern literature. And yet we do it all the time. Also, I have
seen what my kids read, and now what my grandchildren read, and they read so little in
seventh, eighth, and ninth grades because nothing is politically correct enough. They get
all these books...books about Indian women and whatnot. You know the many
complaints I have about the curriculum and the design of the curriculum. You have









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heard me say this in class. You cannot expand the canon. We talk about expanding the
canon, but that is, what can you call it, it is illogical. It makes no sense. The canon is not
created by the number of titles that you can put on a piece of paper. It is created by how
much time you have to read. The canon is a time bound concept. If you add something,
you must be taking something away. What we've done is take away all of the literature
which forms the basis of all of the literature that we read and we are coming to a place
where now, I suppose, where the next generation may be writing literature where they
haven't read any previous literature. But my argument is, that that won't be literature. It
will be something else. Literature talks about literature. That what the function of
literature is. It is engaged in a dialogue with itself If it doesn't do that, then it's
something else, pop culture, cultural studies, garbage. Find your title. This is why I get
into trouble.

C: If it is definitely a problem within the English department, do you think that it is a
problem as a whole, just the average person who is not an English scholar or an English
major not being aware?

N: In some ways it is even a larger problem. In the past, a basic education in English was
part of a core curriculum, the idea of a core curriculum, so that in college, students took
freshman English and the first half was writing about essays and the second half was
writing about literature and then maybe they would take survey courses, even if they
were a non-English major. All of that has disappeared. You are beginning to get a
culture where the book hasn't died, books are extremely popular. People are desperate to
read. I am not sure that they know how to read and I am not sure that they know the
context in which to read. We do publish an enormous number of books today, we still
do, but I think that people are pretty badly read. If you go to the book sale, do you ever
go to the book sale, it's really quite something. The one, the Friends of the Library, they
sell thousands and thousands of books. Huge tables spread with what I would call
"garbage" and there is one table that is classics. The same is true if you go to Books-a-
Million or any place like that. The classic shelves are very small and then there is all of
that garbage literature. I hate to do that. I hate to say that we are in an intellectual
decline. I just saw the Caberet. So depressing. You have the sense of cultures dying
slowly and maybe the West somehow is just in a cultural decline. Something will
happen, something different, something new. But the writing of literature, I told my class
yesterday that, and you know I am not really religious at all, but I said, it may be that if
there is no God, you cannot write literature. You might have to almost make up your
mind that there is one or write against God, like Joyce does. He believes that it is
worthwhile to write against God. If you don't have any concept of that, I don't know
whether you can write literature. They looked at me [and thought], when is this period
over?


C: What class was that?









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N: Probably the Oscar Wilde class. I was talking about the fact that Oscar Wilde always
surprises you. I ask [the class], how is this play going to end. They read the first half
and how is it going to end. No one knows, really. I told them that the only smart answer
is, I have no idea, whereas, in an eighteenth-century play or in a Shakespeare play even,
within the first ten words, you know who is going marry who at the end of the play. It
may take the whole play for Harriet and Doromont to get there, but they are going to get
there. I was just making a point about the fact that Wilde knew where he was going
because Wilde is God in his play. Authors must believe in God because they must
believe that they can be God, or something like that. Well, I have six grandchildren. I
just had my latest one born on my birthday. That's why they are on my mind right now. I
won't say anything else about them.

C: What type of books do you have them read?

N: I try. I try to get them going in books. The oldest one, who is fifteen, and is in the IB
[International Baccalaureate] program now, here in Gainesville, she is thinking of being a
writer. She has been writing poetry, so maybe I am going to get a writer. My two sons,
one is a lawyer and one is a businessman. I try to get them to read. Ijust ordered a
bunch of books because I know we got them started on this. Do you know him at all?
He has just started, but very popular with the kids now. He is sort of filled with irony.
He's got this nasty voice which always looks on the dark side of things. They seem to
like it. That is volume 9, so they have read the first 8. We try. I don't buy them any
video games and stuff. I don't buy any electronic equipment, so they know that if they
are going to get anything from me, it's going to have to be books.

C: If there is anything else you want [to cover]?

N: No. That's good. That should do it.
C: Thank you very much Dr. New. We are all set.




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